It’s rather perplexin how many people overlook their intake of caffeine; they just adhere to the cultural norms of a morning cup of coffee and succumb to the temptation of fighting off the mid-afternoon “crash” at the office…But then it happens. You wake up, down a triple-shot espresso and don’t feel that usual “pep” that you’re yearning for.
Your head starts pounding, you feel lethargic, unmotivated, irritable, and wondering, “Why me?” Well, in a nutshell, you’re no different than a meth head going through withdrawals; you’ve become addicted. For most people, this isn’t a big issue because they just sit at a desk all day and are probably more worried about whose birthday it is in the office so they have an excuse to eat some cake.
However, for gym-goers and athletes alike, this can mean disaster for performance. Read on for a quick look at how to avoid (or overcome) caffeine addiction.
Dealing with caffeine addiction
While there are numerous benefits to caffeine use for one’s health and performance, it is an addictive drug and the nominal dose to achieve said benefits gradually increases as one develops intolerance to the drug. This is why most coffee drinkers can slam a mug of coffee and not feel a thing, or they get a short-lived burst of energy and crash minutes later.
Some people may be familiar with the idea of being “stimmed out,” which is basically a colloquial term for being resistant to the effects of caffeine. If you’ve reached this sticking point, it is strongly advised you to back off the caffeine either gradually or cold turkey (if you can handle the withdrawal symptoms for a few days).
The time it takes for one to become “stimmed out” is still up for debate as the variables that come into play are numerous, so a general recommendation is that for every 8-12 weeks of using caffeine, one should take 1 to 2 weeks off of it (and most any OTC stimulants). This will be a case of trial and error, though. Some folks may handle caffeine well and still notice positive effects for months on end with daily use. If this is the case, then by all means keep using caffeine.
Contrarily, if you are a few weeks deep while supplementing caffeine and you feel horrible (with or without your daily dose), then it’s time to reconsider your approach and back off for a bit.
Quitting “Cold Turkey” Vs. Tapering Off
The preferred method of cycling off of caffeine will boil down to how you handle the acute withdrawal symptoms. If you choose the cold turkey route, be prepared for the consequences (so to speak) that will likely ensue in the few days afterwards. Generally, you will feel unmotivated, tired, sluggish, and experience headaches.
On the other hand, if you choose to taper off caffeine, you may be able to avoid many of the withdrawal symptoms that come with the cold turkey method. How aggressive you are with your dose reduction will depend on how much you were ingesting during your use of caffeine. Considering cutting your dose in half each day until you’re taking in an insignificant amount. For example, for someone looking to taper off caffeine that was taking in 600 mg daily would approach it like this:
Day 1–>50% of 600 mg=300 mg
Day 2–>50% of 300 mg=150 mg
Day 3–>50% of 150 mg=75 mg
Day 4–>50% of 75 mg=37.5 mg
Day 5–>No caffeine (~19 mg would be an insignificant dose for most any adult)
The time it takes to “re-sensitize” yourself to caffeine is going to be influenced by how often and how much caffeine you were taking. If you are only using caffeine 2-3 times a week with a moderate dose (say 200-300 mg), you could likely keep it in your regimen indefinitely or until you notice you’re a little too draggy without it (i.e. you depend on caffeine to function). If you’re the type that enjoys pushing the limits then you might find yourself becoming resistant to the effects in just a few short weeks.
Overall, you will likely know when it’s time to give the caffeine a break because you will be facing many of the side-effects mentioned earlier; headaches, irritability, lethargy, decreased motivation, etc. At this point, it’s time to give your CNS some rest (also consider backing off the training intensity to coincide with your caffeine cycles).